Kitara Board Game Review
WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2-4
You’ll like this if you like: Root, Blood Rage, Targi
Published by: IELLO
Designed by: Eric B. Vogel
Kitara is an intriguing game. Similar to Root, on the surface it looks like a family friendly, animal themed game. But also like Root, it has so many hidden depths. From the box art, you can get an idea for the battle that awaits within as two warrior's sit astride seemingly giant beasts, going head to head in mortal combat. But the brutal area majority battle in Kitara offers far more than what I first expected from the gorgeous sun rise below. Or is it a sun set?
At its heart, Kitara is an area majority game. Card drafting and hand management is present too, but the core of the game is about controlling the board. And in order to control the board, you must fight! The game starts with each player having three warrior pawns on the board in their home territory. On your turn, players will draft one of six face up cards into their play area. Each player will start with one card here at their disposal and they need to build up a collection of cards that work well together.
At the start of the game, players can only access the first two of these six cards. But as they draft more cards into their play area they will increase their ability to choose from a wider selection in later turns. Each card they take has a mixture of symbols on it. Some offer a wider selection at the drafting phase as already mentioned, there are also straight up points available, more movement for the next phase of the game, and most commonly the ability to place some of your others warriors onto the board.
Once you have drafted your new card and placed any new warriors the new card allows, you can then use all cards you have in front of you to move your warriors. The board is made up of various areas, some of which generate food for your tribe but no points, and others which generate points but no food. Players will have three different types of warrior pawns. Only your master animal pawns will score you points, and only when they are located in the ruins spaces. Your hero pawns will generate points every time you fight with them, and your regular warrior pawns are there to make up the numbers. Literally, this is about who has the most warriors on any space. Kitara is a numbers game.
You can only move onto an opponents space if you have more warriors than them. It's a simple rule, but you will be surprised at how often a player will start to attack and then realise they have miss counted! Especially when the board gets a little cluttered near the end of the game. Each warrior counts as a power of one, irrespective of their type. The hero pawns are a lot larger and so it can be misleading when glancing at the board, counting up how many warriors each player has in each space. When you move into an opponents area, they do not lose any points or warriors, they simply have to retreat to their nearest space with other warriors present. If you made this attack with your hero pawn, you can dip into the bag and pull one point token out. You can do this each time you attack in a round, but only keep one token per round. The points on the tokens vary from two to five, so its worth going in for a second attack if you can, if you draw a two point token on your first attack.
Attacking the other players feels like the most natural thing to do. Not only do you get the points if you used your hero pawn, but also you can start to control the way the board looks. Pushing your opponents back and owning more land yourself is crucial in this game. Clearing space in the ruins areas allows you to score two point per round if you manage to get your master animal pawn there, and having any warrior on a grassland means you can feed your tribe and keep your cards.
At the end of you turn, once you have used all your movement and scored your points, you must feed your warriors. For each card you have in play, you need one food. Food comes from controlling the savanna spaces. For each food you are short, you must discard one card of your choice. If that card you discard has warrior any images on it, then you must also remove those warriors from the board. Managing your food is key to winning this game.
In the game, there are two different decks of cards to play with. There is no significant differences other than the food icon. The red deck offers the chance for some cards to generate food as well as points, warriors, movement, and the chance to increase your range when drafting. Having played with both decks a few times, I don't really see the need to ever play with the blue deck again. The red deck with this simple change, offers more chances to have a more powerful hand, a more satisfying turn, and a more enjoyable game. Other than the simplicity of learning the game without the food icon, I am unsure why there are two decks in the first place.
The cards are highly functionally. They all look the same, and lack any original or exciting art. It's a shame, as the art that is present in this game is stunning, but it's not used enough. It exists on the player aids, the box art, and a little on the board, but the game does become a little abstract when playing. I love abstract games, and really enjoy Kitara despite the lack of theme. I just feel that if the theme could have been implemented on the cards, it would have added to the overall sense of immersion.
The player aids look amazing! They are not really needed after a few games, but initially they are helpful reminding you on the left what each symbol means, and on the right, the order of your turn. But after a few games, when all this becomes second nature, I found I did not even use them. I still got them out the box and set up with them, if only to help clarify player colour. But other than that, they quickly got pushed to the side and forgotten which is a shame as they look great.
I am unsure why the animals are so big though? On the back of the rule book, the designer talks of his desire to make this game as realistic as possible and explains the research conducted to give the games' theme some credibility. He explains what is real and what was exaggerated in the game. The over sized animals detracts from this sense of reality for me. I am fine with that in most games. I love a fantasy theme. But Kitara sits more in the real-world, and everything else feels more closely akin the truth. This slight change with the over sized animals jars a bit. Either go all in and have a number of fantasy themed animals, events or powers, or make is close to real-life. It almost feels like the art has a sizing error, as it just doesn't make sense when compared to the rest of the game.
But this really is nit-picking. Overall the game looks great and the production is of a very high standard for a game of this size and cost. The meeples are all the same design across the four playing colours which is a shame, especially when each colour has a different wild animal on the player aid, but in the game, it's all just Rhinos. But they look great and the colours really pop on the board, especially in a four player game. But there is no doubt minis or at least different style meeples would have been better. Budget always wins though I suppose.
The game scales brilliantly to the different player counts. The board needs to be tight and full of conflict so a larger board with more space simply wouldn't work with a two. As such, the game comes with two boards. One single sided small board for the two player, and a doubled sided board used either for a three or four player game.
I much prefer the game in a four, but three and two works well too. They are all tight and engrossing affairs. But I like the options in a four player game. Having more players present, and more opponents to fight makes for a better game. In a two, you obviously only have one choice, and this worked better for me than a three. In a three player game, when you have two opponents to fight, it can become a little frustrating for the player in the lead, always being attacked. Whereas in a four, you may still want to go for the leading player all the time, but geography may not permit. If you cannot reach them, you cannot fight them. Movement points are limited and as such, the game becomes a lot more strategic and tense. It's tight and fun in a two but has obvious choices. In a three, one player can feel picked on. The game excels in a four for these reasons.
The timing of the game is also very interesting. The cards that you draft are numbered in power from one to five. You sort the deck so that all the ones come out first, then the two's and so on. When the first five is seen in the draft line this signals the end of the game. Everyone has one last turn and then it is game over. The cards dictate the game length and there are the same amount no mater the player count. As such, the game has the same game time no matter the player count. Each player will have less turns with more players, and the game will remain at around 30-40 minutes, depending on players familiarity with it.
I like games that don't have game the length affected by player count, especially in a game like this where on other players turns you are just watching. But it does feel very different moving from a two player to a four player, and having so many less turns. It feels like some cards should be added to make the higher player count games longer, but I presume this decision was ignored in favour of a consistent game length? And this was in turn, because the game has no involvement for the inactive player. You don't want a long game when most the time, you are just sat there watching other players do their thing. This is either then, an elegant solution, or a frustration born from the games mechanics, depending on your point of view!
At its core, Kitara is a fantastic small box game. It sits in the mold of games like Targi. You get so much more from the game than you expect. It offers a lot more strategy than the simple rules would suggest. It pulls you back, asking you to play over and over. Not only to try and win, or beat your previous scores, but to fine tune your strategy.
Getting cards that generate points early can be a good way to get a head start in Kitara, especially if you are able to keep these cards round after round. But if they don't give you enough movement or allow you to add the right warriors to the board then it may not work out for you. You need to find a balance to do well in Kitara. Some cards are clearly more powerful than others. There is an advantage to being the first player because of this, but there are enough cards in the game for this to be minimal. But I am surprised the game doesn't have any rules by which the second, third and forth players start with more warriors on the board to even this out.
(Everything packs away beautifully as well. Minor point I know. But I do love a good box insert!)
Overall, Kitara is a surprisingly good game. Surprising in that it offers more than its small size and simple rules would suggest. Surprising in that the game is a little more cut throat than the art may suggest. Surprising in how abstract the game feels despite the wonderful theme. And surprising in how different each player count feels.
I will certainly be keeping this game in my collection and can see myself turning to it on multiple occasions. It scratches quite a few itches, and due to the consistent play time irrelevant of player count, will work for many situations. Kitara is a very clever little game that stands head and shoulders above its smaller physical presence.